My Favorite Dance Movie: Emma Harris
From Billy Elliot to Black Swan, dance has provided an intense backdrop to some of the big screen’s most emotional stories. Dancers, in turn, are inspired by films which revolve on their chosen calling. In this series, the artists of Ballet Manila share their thoughts on the dance movies that made an impact on them, that they relate to and which they have grown to love.
Dancing with a company that subscribes to the Russian Vaganova training method, it is perhaps no surprise that Ballet Manila company artist Emma Harris points to Backstage at the Kirov as her film of choice. A documentary, it shines a light on the world’s most revered ballet institution that is already over two hundred years old – the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg whose members are graduates of the Vaganova Choreographic Institute.
“It is my favorite because it showcases the Kirov Ballet when it was at its best and also because it stars my ballet idol Altynai Asylmuratova,” says Emma.
Released in 1983, Backstage at the Kirov is the work of British writer/ director Derek Hart – himself a former dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet and London’s Ballet Rambert –who is said to have taken three and a half years to complete the documentary.
“I love that it takes you behind the scenes of the Kirov Ballet, from meetings with the artistic team to rehearsals and classes. The film focuses on Altynai as she prepares for the role of Odette. It’s so fascinating because you get to hear how she’s feeling, watch her rehearsals and basically experience all that it’s taken her to get to the final production,” Emma enthuses.
This sentiment echoes a review that appeared in the New York Times in 1984 where critic Jennifer Dunning writes: “Backstage at the Kirov succeeds in re-creating the magical atmosphere of the theater, particularly in the wings, during a performance, in those moments when the performers are no longer quite themselves, nor yet the characters they portray."
Since hearing of the documentary from one of her ballet teachers years ago, the ballerina has seen it several times. “I never get tired of it!” says Emma who always finds insight and inspiration in the film with each viewing.
“My favorite scene would have to be the final one, where Altynai finally gets to perform as Odette – because you’ve gotten to know everything that she’s been through so it’s extra special to watch it.”
There’s a quote from the film that has really stuck with Emma. It is when the time has come for Altynai to dance Odette for the first time. “I’m paraphrasing it. She says she wants it so badly but at the same time she doesn’t want it and this is out of fear because she has so many expectations of herself. I can absolutely identify and relate to what she said, because I too feel the exact same way when I’m given opportunities!”
Emma recommends this film, particularly to aspiring ballet dancers so they can get an idea of what it takes to actually work in this field. “People should watch this movie if they are looking to be inspired,” concludes Emma.